INDIANAPOLIS — More than 400 people have been shot in Indianapolis this year, according to IMPD. That’s close to 2019’s year-end total of 524 gun casualties. The US Attorney’s Office says homicides are up more than 51%.
“There’s blood in the streets,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Josh Minkler.
Minkler said after seeing a steady increase in gun violence starting in May, he knew the city needed to tourniquet the problem immediately to “stop the bleeding.”
“I saw the number of homicides and fatal shootings in May, June, July and the first half of August and I said the federal law enforcement needs to get off the sidelines. We need to address this, we need to address this in Marion County and Indianapolis, and it needs to be focused and it needs to be intense,” said Minkler. And now the federal government is on the ground helping Indianapolis tackle gun violence.
"Operation Legend" is described as a “systemic and coordinated law enforcement initiative in which federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight violent crimes,” according to the Department of Justice. It was first launched in July in Kansas City, Missouri and has been deployed in Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and now Indianapolis. The DOJ said Operation Legend was named “in honor of four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed while he slept early in the morning of June 29 in Kansas City.”
“I noticed we were experiencing the same thing in Indianapolis. Innocent children, caught in crossfire, sleeping in their beds, in their mother’s car, that’s going to motivate anybody to want to make things better,” said Minkler.
In August, “I took a look at it and said we need to do what Kansas City is doing. And so that’s when I went out there and saw what they were doing and it was working and tried bringing those practices here,” said Minkler.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Marshals Service are helping local and state officials fight “high levels of violent crime, particularly gun violence,” at the direction of U.S. Attorney General William Barr. The DOJ has dedicated 40 federal investigators; the Department of Homeland Security is making 17 agents available and the Bureau of Justice will provide reimbursements up to a total of $250,000 in support of the 45-day operation in Indianapolis.
“What we’re trying to do is take guns off the street and take the people who are using those guns off the street,” said FBI Indianapolis’ Special Agent in Charge Paul Keenan. “It’s a surge of personnel and resources into fighting violent crime by the federal government. And of course, we’re always working with state and local law enforcement."
“It is targeting gun violence. It is not targeting any specific group of people, it is not targeting any specific neighborhood,” said Minkler. “It is not to respond to peaceful protests. It is not to respond to Black Lives Matter. It is not to respond to Antifa. This is specifically targeted to gun violence, period."
Prior to launching Operation Legend in Indianapolis, Minkler said he spoke to “members of the African-American community to tell them exactly what it was, and exactly what it was not.”
Reverend Charles Harrison has been active in the fight against gun violence in Indianapolis for decades and said he supports Operation Legend.
“They are working with community leaders,” said Harrison. “And they’re trying to target certain areas and neighborhoods and we have to do that. Because what I’m hearing is people are afraid."
Harrison said he knows of witnesses who are too afraid of retaliation from criminals to come forward to authorities. Harrison said that level of fear is unacceptable.
Gun violence in Indianapolis is involved in an array of crimes. Keenan said the FBI was assisting local and state officials as part of Operation Legend in “carjacking, armed robberies, e-commerce, homicide investigations, kidnapping investigations and felony possessions.”
OPERATION LEGEND MAKING AN IMPACT IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS
In less than two weeks, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have taken 49 guns off the streets of Indianapolis. They have also “arrested 18 fugitives, including two fugitives for murder cases,” said Minkler.
Keenan said the FBI has been involved in several Operation Legend arrests, including those related to armed robberies.
“We arrested one person for illegal possession of a weapon and narcotics, and we have several investigations that are ongoing right now related to carjackings and kidnappings,” said Keenan.
He said over 20 individuals have been charged with federal crimes and agents have seized a pound of heroin and significant quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine as part of the initiative.
The agencies aren't looking for small-time criminals.
“Two days ago, we had an individual from Columbus, Ind. who was sentenced to 41 months in prison. He sold 300 guns illegally, 21 of those ended up in crime scenes here in Indianapolis,” said Minkler.
Harrison said this is exactly “where the target really need to be.”
“Who’s pumping the guns in?" he said. "If you can shut off the faucet so these guns are not flowing in here like this, you’re going to see a dramatic reduction and that’s what we’re hoping for."
While the operation is only set to last 45 days, officials are hoping it will have a ripple effect in deterrence.
Minkler said federal courts have an advantage over state courts.
“When an individual is charged federally, we don’t charge bargain a gun case. If you’re charged with a gun case, you’re going to plea to a gun case. And then we have the deterrent of federal prison. You don’t go to community prison or back to your house,” said Minkler.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and FBI Indianapolis both acknowledge the economic climate and high unemployment have impacted crime levels, but say attacking gun violence in Indianapolis needs to come from two directions.
“This is the enforcement side. Obviously there are good, well-meaning people that are trying to address the root causes completely,” said Minkler.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said they expect to see a quantitive result demonstrating a decrease in gun violence at the end of the 45-day operation and that the temporary surge in resources is helpful to their ongoing commitment.